Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Tempting Deception

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
Colossians 2:8 ESV
I'm not concerned here about such things as political philosophies and ideologies, because it should be obvious to most observers that such things as these can often change due to personal circumstances and the failings of those who champion such ideas. It's funny how that works -- a grand idea is subject to the perfection of those who promote it -- it hardly seems fair.

However, this may be one of the main reasons that the "philosophy" of Jesus is so appealing, even to those who do not believe in Christ alone for their salvation. It is the perfection of Jesus that ultimately validates his sacrificial death. Or, as Paul puts it:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV
The point I want to emphasize in the lead passage today though is that we must be cautious about the ideas to which we fall prey as Christians. It's easiest to identify "alien" ideas that are blatantly unChristian (atheism, as an example). The more challenging task is to identify those ideas which carry Christian labels or those which seem to run parallel with the more obvious Christian traditions and theologies.

In this genre of philosophy lie such values as self-reliance, tolerance, democratic rule, and so many other ideas upon which our American society is based. I am not suggesting that we ought to abandon any of these values; rather, I am simply pointing out that while any such thing might look good, and indeed be foundational in civil society, these do not rise to an equivalency to Christ.

Idolatry has many forms, and as it has always been, idols do not let us know that that's what they are. Instead, they relish the attention they are able to draw from us, so why should they want to give away their little secrets?

The work of our intellect can be surprisingly insidious. While we grapple for our cherished cultural ideals, even to the point of hating those who oppose them, we willingly ignore some of those patently Christian teachings -- this one, for instance:

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven."
Matthew 5:43-45a ESV
It is most important that Christians understand that the philosophies of this world are incapable of creating a utopian society (The story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11 comes to mind as one of the earliest attempts to do so.).

It can easily be argued that neither is the Christian philosophy capable of it. A utopia in which there is no strife, no poverty, no illness, no death, etc., is not the chief aim of Christ, even if our philosophy would have it be so.

The chief aim of Christ is to bring to faith those whom God has chosen, and this being accomplished, the hand of God's justice will come down in judgment. This hardly seems utopian.

So, while Paul warns us in our lead passage not to be deceived by the philosophies of this world, it is really a warning against taking that which seems good to us philosophically and giving it ultimacy in our lives.

What is most important is that we engage in a tenacious search for the truth of God, knowing that the Truth of God is found only in God Incarnate, Jesus Christ.

While civil society may require imperfect and incomplete principles in order to exist peacefully, we are not to be "taken captive" by them, for they fall far short of the requirements of living in the kingdom of God.

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